Addicted to novelty since 2001

Workers, Working and Workspaces

There’s a reason everybody’s talking about the new essay by Paul Graham–it’s great. It’s ostensibly concerned with open source, but in truth it’s more about how to run any kind of successful business and how to keep your staff happy.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

Here are some resources which, I think, reflect or expand upon the thinking in this essay:

3 Responses to “Workers, Working and Workspaces”

  1. Derek

    Uh, no. Office environments that include so many gew-gaws that you should never want to leave say this: “Your work is your life. You should want nothing else.” It’s not about keeping employees happy—it’s about convincing them to never stop working.

    I think Graham has a couple of good ideas: flexible work schedules and expectations that reward accomplishment rather than just showing up are good. But he overreaches severely in the rest of the essay. Most critically, he writes off everyone who isn’t a young (and implicitly male) hacker with one sentence: “Someone with kids and a mortgage should think twice before [launching a startup/becoming self-employed].” But he doesn’t address it any further.

    I’m 36. I have two kids and a wonderful wife whom I like to spend time with. I love my job, but it is my job. It is not my life. And Graham glosses over the distinction, which is fine for young hackers, but not for anyone else.

  2. Darren

    Derek: So what’s the alternative? Make workplaces kind of unsavoury, so employees will look forward to leaving? An enlightened employer will recognize that a) the more fun the workplace, the more productive and happier the employees and b) a healthy employee spends plenty of time away from work.

    Nowhere in his essay does Graham advocate that employees of large organizations should endlessly slave away. In fact, he implies the opposite (with regards to being measured on productivity instead of just showing up).

    He definitely doesn’t “write off” non-young, non-programmers. In the paragraph you quote, he’s speaking to risk:

    “Another thing that keeps people away from starting startups is the risk. Someone with kids and a mortgage should think twice before doing it. But most young hackers have neither.”

    He makes no age-specific commentary about being self-employed, just about working in a startup.

    Finally, speaking personally, I aspire to find work that fits seamlessly into my life, so that there’s not necessarily this clear division between the two. That’s a tricky proposition, but I’m definitely getting closer to that ideal.

  3. Derek

    I agree that many of Graham’s ideas early in the essay—about improving the workplace environment—are good, but he uses them as a basis for what I think is a spurious argument in the end: that we should all aspire to an “economically equal” (i.e. company-to-company) relationship with our employers, treating them as customers. I disagree, because I think for many people that relationship can’t be equal enough.

    Still, as someone who found “Hackers and Painters” underwhelming, I may be biased against Graham’s writing. I liked Maciej Ceglowski’s critique of that earlier work much better, in fact.

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